If you’re a book-lover like me and looking for a book town to visit, then Hay-on-Wye is the place to go! A quaint little town in Wales, Hay-on-Wye will please all manner of book nerds – in this small spot of just 1500 people, there are 19 bookshops. If that doesn’t make Hay-on-Wye the book town to visit, then I don’t know what will!
Tucked right on the border with England and Wales, this book-lover’s paradise is small but perfectly formed. You can find everything you need in Hay-on-Wye for a wonderful day spent in the incomparable company of the greatest authors and poets – and fellow book-afficianadoes who love them just as much as you do! Hay-on-Wye is that picture-perfect, cobblestoned village you’ve been searching for. But if the promise of nineteen bookshops isn’t enough, here are my top reasons why you should visit Hay-on-Wye, the best book town there is.
Reason No. 1: There Are Bookshops.
Surely the first prerequisite of any book town is to have a healthy stack of bookshops. In Hay-on-Wye, there are nineteen: no mean feat for such a small town.
There are bookshops big and small in Hay-on-Wye and you won’t be spoilt for choice when it comes to satisfying your genre desires. Addyman Books is one of the most well-known bookshops in the town. In Addyman’s you’ll find all manner of books, from the classics to obscure hidden gems to travel guides and the most recent best-selling paperbacks. They have more than one shop, so Addyman’s may well be your first port of call.
If you’re after something a little more specific, then worry not, Hay-on-Wye has you covered. Like a whodunnit? There’s a bookshop for that. It’s called Murder and Mayhem. Love a bit of the old poetry (rhyming or otherwise)? There’s a bookshop for that. It’s called (not-surprisingly!) The Poetry Bookshop. As a side note, this was my favourite bookshop in the town. Beautifully bright and spacious, I picked up a first edition of the Carol Ann Duffy collection I read as a child – the book that got me hooked on poetry from then on. I totally didn’t squeal when I found it, honest. If you want to branch out, there’s Haystacks for a spot of musical browsing; and if you’re after a unique antique map well, yep, you guessed it, Hay-on-Wye has you covered at Mostly Maps.
Oh, and don’t forget to look for all the Hay puns. How many will you spot?!
Reason No. 2: There Are More Bookshops.
Let’s talk about Richard Booth’s Bookshop. Here’s a quick Hay-on-Wye history lesson and the story of Richard Booth. Booth was born in Hay-on-Wye and, after studying at Oxford University, came back to his beloved hometown and was more than a little disillusioned by how many folks were leaving it for new and bigger places. Wondering what could revive the economy of the small Welsh town, he had a bright idea: books. So, he opened a second-hand bookshop, filling it with stock from the closing libraries of America. Others followed in his example and by the 1970s Hay was officially a book town.
Although Richard Booth no longer owns the bookshop, it still stands in the same spot – the town’s old fire station – and now houses not just books, but a cinema and cafe too. And when I say this shop houses books, I mean it houses a lot of books. There are stacks and stacks of them, all meticulously organised. You’ll find a barely read copy of a new novel alongside a hundred-year old leather bound classic.
The Hay Cinema Bookshop is also worth checking out and another of the oldest shops in the town, established in 1965. It is the biggest open air bookshop in the world, set in the environs of an old cinema. Well worth a visit – and dogs are welcome too which is, to me, always the sign of a wonderful place.
Reason No. 3: There Aren’t Just Bookshops.
While bookshops may be the main draw of Hay-on-Wye, that isn’t all there is. The small town is not short of places to get your foodie fix. Why not visit The Granary for a spot of lunch? A well-established and popular eatery in the town, this place serves up delicious home-cooked food and caters for a variety of diets. With plenty of seating, it has a bustling and friendly atmosphere. They even make a Christmas window display out of their rubbish!
If it’s coffee and ice cream you’re in the mood for, then head to Shepherds Parlour. The ice cream they serve up there is made from sheep’s milk and scrumdiddlyumptious. You’ll have 16 flavours to choose from and they will not disappoint. Using fresh fruit when in season, they dish up some adventurous flavours from Lebanese Coffee to Cinnamon Chai. Go on, treat yourself!
Hay-on-Wye Deli is well worth a visit. I found a gluten-free chocolate absinthe cake. Yes, you read that right: a gluten-free chocolate absinthe cake. It was downright amazing.
The Old Electric Shop is another one for your Hay-on-Wye itinerary. Stocking unique and quirky homeware and gifts, this place has a vintage feel. They have a cafe too, serving vegetarian food with (drumroll please…) gluten-free options. Seasonal produce is the star of the show here and you won’t leave with an empty belly. Just remember to leave room for that chocolate absinthe cake you bought earlier…
Reason No. 4: There Are Sheep.
Hay-on-Wye really is in a beautiful location. Just on the edge of the Brecon Beacons, you’ll enjoy views a-plenty. We made our trip to Hay-on-Wye after staying in a small town just a short drive away – there are many options for staying nearby in secluded, country spots. If it’s peace and quiet you’re after, you will find it here.
As you’re leaving Hay-on-Wye, the book town of all book towns, pop by the say hello to the sheep. In a field just off the main car park of the town, here you’ll find them resting in trees’ shades, a timely reminder to pause, ponder and pick up that book (or several) in your shopping bag and get back to nature and yourself.